In Our View: Real Estate Hopes Rise

A couple of encouraging statistics should bring smiles to homeowners

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Almost as important as the content of the following statement is the speaker's credentials and the year in which he spoke: "The sentiment for homeownership is embedded in the American heart. … It makes for happier married life. It makes for better children. …"Those were the sentiments of President Herbert Hoover in 1931, during the Great Depression.

Well, we're not so convinced that owning a home will improve your marriage or make your kids behave, but Hoover was right about the way Americans value homeownership. And the literal meaning of "value" should not be taken for granted. Here in Clark County, folks want to make money off their homes, or at least not lose money.

Which brings us to good news about homeownership. According to Portland-based RMLS, the median sales price (half sold for more, half for less) for Clark County homes sold in January was $210,000. More meaningful, that's a 26 percent increase from $166,000 in January 2012.

We caution against jumping to conclusions. Suppress any delusions about a land-baron bonanza. Don't rush out and stick a "For Sale" sign in your yard just yet. Consult with experts before making big decisions. But the data provide another indication that Clark County is in economic recovery, albeit agonizingly slow, but it beats the heck out of bumping along the bottom.

Here's more good news for local homeowners: There were 329 closed sales last month, an 11 percent jump over closed sales in January 2012. That means the action is picking up. Also, the most recent report shows 2,052 active listings of homes for sale, the second-lowest number for any month in five years. That means demand is being driven up by a more competitive local housing market.

For readers who are interested in a more narrowly focused report, here are median sales prices for Clark County homes listed by 13 areas: Central Vancouver, $132,600; Heights, $302,500; Cascade Park, $199,500; Camas/Washougal, $267,000; Brush Prairie/Hockinson, $270,900; Five Corners/Orchards, $151,300; Hazel Dell/Minnehaha, $185,000; Felida, $206,000; Salmon Creek, $284,500; Ridgefield/La Center, $249,000; Battle Ground, $225,000; North/Northeast County, $227,000; Woodland, $160,200.

Comparisons are instructive, even comforting. Our struggle through this Great Recession pales in comparison with what our parents and grandparents confronted in the 1930s. Still, the past five years have caused countless heartaches among local homeowners. The statistics from January provide hope for those who might enter the market.

Make no mistake, however, there is much more to a home than just its literal value. President Hoover knew this all too well, by adding to the above statement: "There is a wide distinction between homes and mere housing. Those immortal ballads, 'Home, Sweet Home,' 'My Old Kentucky Home' and 'The Little Grey Home in the West' were not written about tenements or apartments. … They were written about an individual abode, alive with tender associations of childhood, the family life at the fireside, the free out-of-doors, the independence, the security and the pride in possession of the family's own home. … Many of our people must live under other conditions. But they never sing songs about a pile of rent receipts."

He's right. A home's most powerful potential, its greatest true value, is felt not in the wallets of those who might sell it, but in the hearts of those who share it. If we net a few grand, that's cool, too.